Hideo Ohba’s contributions both to the revival of judo in post-war Japan, and to the development of his mentor Kenji Tomiki’s aikido are described in detail by one of his students, Fumiaki Shishida, Japan Aikido Association shihan.
Difficult Journey Back Home
Beginning in 1943, defeat in the war was gradually becoming a certainty and ominous clouds began to gather over Japan. However, at least Shinkyo (Hsin-ching, present-day Ch’ang-ch’un) in Manchuria was still a paradise. In those days, Kenji Tomiki held a morning practice in a large dojo at the Shimbuden. It is said that this practice was always held despite severe cold weather. At that time, Ohba’s house was located about a half an hour’s walk past the Shimbuden from Tomiki’s house. They would begin their practice at about five thirty a.m. and afterward would go back to Tomiki’s house at about eight to eat the breakfast Tomiki’s wife, Fusae, prepared for them. Then, they would walk together again to Kenkoku University where they both worked. (In those days, Tomiki was a professor of Kenkoku University and was teaching aikido as a subject in the regular curriculum; Ohba was his assistant.)
However, as the war was drawing to a close, in July 1945 Tomiki was drafted, and shortly afterwards the Soviet Union entered into the war. Fusae joined the families of the non-commissioned officers of the Kenpei Kyoshutai (a military police training platoon) and hastily left Shinkyo with her four children. However, the transportation relay didn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped and she had to get off at Tong-Hua and stay at an elementary school nearby. The situation was so severe that some of the people there even thought of committing suicide out of despair. It was there and in such circumstances that Ohba finally located Fusae and her children. He went all the way to Tong-Hua in order to save his master’s family while on his own journey of escape. After many twists and turns they came to Phyong-yang. However, Ohba was seized by the Korean army and taken to a large airport at the Soviet border. Fortunately, Fusae and her children were able to return to Japan although they suffered many hardships. Their safe return was, however, at the cost of two of Fusae’s children. Although Hideo was forced to work at an airfield maintenance shop for about a year, he finally received permission to return home. However, on the way back home, he was struck by typhus fever. He suffered from high fever and there was a shortage of food. He was prepared to die. Fortunately, he overcame this crisis thanks to the devoted nursing of a youth who was one of the party.
Meanwhile, Tomiki was detained by the Soviet army at Lake Balkash in Siberia with many other Japanese. The present solo tegatana exercises were created as a result of the life he led during his three years and six months in captivity.
Days Of Revitalization
In October 1945, a telegram from Hideo was delivered to Keiko Ohba informing her of his return. Ohba, who returned to Yokote after having had a narrow escape from the jaws of death, gradually regained his stamina after one year of recuperation, supported by his beloved wife. He then began to devote himself to the revival of judo. In June 1949, he became a vice-president of the Hiraka Branch of the Japan Judo Federation and in January 1950, he was appointed as a part-time judo instructor for the Yokote Police Department. Then in October of the same year, he was promoted to 6th dan in Kodokan Judo, and in 1952 he became an adviser to thand Judo Federation of Ogachi-Yuzawa. His strenuous efforts during these years are apparent when his personal history is examined.
Also, for the four years between 1950 and 1953, Ohba was invited to teach at least four times as an instructor at the Kodokan. He was requested to give special instruction to a martial arts research group of physical education instructors from the United States Air Force. It seems that because Tomiki, Ohba’s master, was in charge of the Kodokan office beginning in 1951 after his return to Japan, he invited Ohba to be his partner in teaching rikaku taisei (techniques against an attack from a distance) judo [in other words, aikido techniques].
In the summer of 1953, Tomiki, Sumiyuki Kotani, 8th dan, and some others left for the United States in order to teach at Air Force bases in 15 states for more than 100 days. For one month Ohba took Tomiki’s place, and taught 30 instructors of the United States Air Force at the Kodokan along with Kin’ichi Shibata, to whom I will refer later, who was also instructing techniques. It seems that since Shibata returned to his hometown for business purposes after 20 days, Isamu Ishii and some others, who were members of the Waseda University Judo Club, took ukemi for Ohba after Shibata left.
In those days, there were several people who were attracted to Ohba’s personality as well as his ability and thus became his supporters. Among those Ohba was close to, there was Ryosuke Togashi (who became a Police Superintendent in 1969). He was a person Ohba thoroughly trusted as a benefactor in his later years. Mr. Togashi had already begun to notice and recognize Ohba’s judo ability in the spring of 1948. In the summer of the following year, Togashi, as the department chief, invited Ohba to become a judo instructor at the Yokote Police Department. After that, the two practiced judo ten days every month until July of 1954 when Ohba was transferred to the Akita Prefectural Police Department.
Another person Ohba trusted was Kin’ichi Shibata (presently the head of a construction company), whom I mentioned earlier. Mr. Shibata returned to Japan in the spring of 1950 after having been detained in Siberia. Immediately after his return, he dissolved the old Yuzawa-Ogachi Yudanshakai (Black Belt Association) to form a better organization, now known as the Yuzawa-Ogachi Judo Federation (with Takichi Takahisa as the president and Ohba as adviser) and devoted himself to its development. During his days at the Akita Middle School, he was famous as the captain of the Judo Club. Ohba had complete confidence in Shibata who was nine years his junior, and who had a gentle personality and great ability. He instructed him with great passion. It is said that during the practice which was held nearly every night (from 5 to around 7:30 p.m.) beginning in 1950 or 1951 until the middle of 1954, they practiced not only judo but also aikido, kendo, naginata and iai. During this period, Shibata also worked actively to help Ohba get employment at the Akita Prefectural Police Department. Shibata consulted with Yoshiyuki Date, a leading figure among instructors in the police judo world as well as Shibata’s benefactor during his Akita Middle School days. Fortunately, Date remembered Ohba’s activities during his days at Kakunodate Middle School and was pleased to know that he was still active. He, along with the Chief of the Yanagihara Police Office, another person who understood Ohba well, talked to Fudo Honda, the head of Akita Prefectural Police Department about Ohba and through this Police Chief, Ohba was given a position at the Akita Prefectural Police Department.
There was also Ichiro Suzuki, a top executive at Akita Hakko (Akita Fermentation Company), who should not be forgotten as one of Ohba’s benefactors.
The Akita Prefectural Police Department
Beginning May 1, 1954, Ohba took his position as a technical official at the National Rural Police (the educational section of the Akita Prefectural Police Headquarters). When two months later, the National Rural Police and the local municipal police were combined to form the Akita Prefectural Police Department, Ohba became a technical official of the educational section, as the chief of the technical section in charge of judo. His job was to instruct judo and police tactics to all police officers in Akita and he was also the judo instructor for the Akita Police School. In those days there were two other technical section chiefs in addition to Ohba. Natsui Shokichi was in charge of judo instruction. He was the first judo world champion in 1956 and won the All-Japan Championship in the following year. The period from 1954 to 1959, while Ohba was working at the Akita Police Department, was a golden age of judo with Natsui as the leader, a post he had held continuously since before the war. In 1958 the Akita Police Department B team won first place at the All-Police Judo and Kendo Competition and in 1959 the A team won second place. Natsui, recalling those days, spoke of Ohba as follows:
Ohba Sensei always did his best to take care of me as well as the department teams. He was very pleased when we won, too. Sensei was a very serious person who would never do anything outside of the rule book, and he never claimed credit for himself for anything, nor ever tried to appear in the limelight. Since it took him fully an hour and a half to get to the Police Department from Yokote, I think it was really hard for him when he went home after the evening practice. However, he had a very strong will and never said he was tired even if we had had a very hard practice.
During our relaxation time, he would play his shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) for us. We would also drink sake or play go together.
Sensei was the type of a person who always tried to search for the “Way” (michi) in judo as well as in aikido. I suppose that this was because he was greatly influenced by Tomiki Sensei. He taught us the judo kata in great detail. It was all thanks to Ohba Sensei that we have achieved what we have now.
Ohba’s teaching method had a special feature. Ryosuke Togashi described this feature as follows: “Sensei used to let himself be thrown by his students. He was also a person who always tried to praise his students’ good points whenever he found them. He would praise them so much that they would feel embarrassed.” It seems that Ohba Sensei’s intent in this teaching method was to awaken the desire to learn in his students and thus have them struggle to improve themselves by their own will. This was why Ohba praised his students and also allowed himself to be thrown. He always thought of others and had a kind character.
He would go to work at the educational section in the morning and then in the afternoon he would teach at a police school or would make a trip somewhere with some of his students. He also had great confidence in kendo and naginata and sometimes participated in the kendo competition of the Police Department.
(The full article is available for subscribers.)